George Will argues in Thursday morning’s Washington Post that the controversy over Massachusetts Democratic Senate candidate Elizabeth Warren’s native American roots — or lack thereof -- has “discombobulated” her campaign.
Massachusetts voters apparently do not agree.
The biggest surprise in the new Suffolk University poll out Thursday is how unfazed by the flap the citizenry there appears to be.
It is not that people haven’t heard of the furor around Warren’s claim, based on family lore, that she is 1/32nd Cherokee, and the questions that have been raised about whether she reaped some professional benefit from the designation.
How could they not, given the amount of coverage the story has received since it broke last month in the Boston Herald?
In the poll, 72 percent of those surveyed said they had heard of the controversy, but 69 percent said they did not regard it as significant.
Perhaps more important in a race that — as I wrote a few weeks back --is likely to come down to independent voters, are the crosstabs. They show that 63 percent of male independents and 68 percent of female independents consider the heritage claim a non-issue.
There is good news for Republican incumbent Sen. Scott Brown in the poll, as well. Voters also appear unconcerned about his ties to Wall Street, which have been the focus of Warren’s campaign attacks. Fifty-five percent overall--and even greater shares of independents--disagreed with the statement that a vote for Brown is a vote for Wall Street.
But perhaps the most refreshing news from the surveys was pointed out by Reid Wilson, over at National Journal’s Hotline On Call. In a year when so much of the electorate is dyspeptic, Massachusetts voters (so far) actually seem to like their U.S. Senate candidates. As Wilson wrote:
Fully 92 percent of Brown voters say they’re voting for the incumbent Republican, rather than against Warren. More than three quarters of Warren backers say they’re voting for Warren, rather than against Brown. Those figures stand in stark contrast to the presidential contest; just 56 percent of voters who say they support Mitt Romney say they’ll cast a ballot for their former governor, while 44 percent say their vote is meant to be a rejection of President Obama.
In deeply blue Massachusetts, Brown must win the favorability race to keep his job -- and so far he is. Brown’s favorability rating stands at 58 percent, up six points since the last Suffolk survey, in February, while 28 percent view him unfavorably. Warren’s net favorability rating is less impressive -- 43 percent favorable, 33 percent unfavorable -- but it’s strong for a candidate who’s never sought public office.
Why is this? Certainly, it offers more evidence that Brown and Warrn are both strong contenders.
David Paleologos, director of the Suffolk University Political Research Center, told me that this upbeat attitude also reflects an improvement in how Massachusetts voters view their own circumstances, including an uptick in the economy.
“People are in a much better frame of mind, except the haters on both sides,” Paleologos said.
But there is another element that could be at play. In a year when SuperPACs are shaping so much of the conversation in politics, Brown and Warren have taken what is being called “the people’s pledge” against allowing in outside campaign money. It works like this: If a third-party group runs an ad that benefits one of the candidates, that candidate has to pay a penalty in the form of a contribution to a charity selected by the other.
Thus far, there has been only one breach — Brown had to write a check for more than $35,000 to an autism group.
Whether this arrangement can last is a big question, but that it has helped foster an environment in which the voters seem to feel good about their choice might be a lesson for politicians everywhere.